Monday, 23 June 2008

SLEDcc2008 on Twitter

I blogged SLEDcc2008 a while back... if you are interested in keeping up to date, note that the organisers have now set up a Twitter feed.

Happy SL5B

Today is Second Life's 5th birthday - a substantial milestone by any measure. Congrats to Linden Lab and the wider community for getting us this far.

Here's to the next 5...

Orange Island Photo Week

This caught my eye, partly because I'm an Orange customer in RL...

Orange are running a photo week on their island this week. Sounds interesting.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Immersion and embodiment

I touched on "embodiment" in my last post which was something that also came up in discussion during the Learning From Online Worlds; Teaching In Second Life event last week.

Mark Childs (SL: Gann McGann) sent me thru some material by email based on the work he is doing on his PhD. I find this stuff fascinating. 'Yer tis (with permission)...
Immerion and embodiment

Here's a summary of the stuff from my PhD on immersive and embodiment tendencies: hope it's of interest. The stuff relating immersion with watching movies is from:

Sheridan, T. (1992) “Musings on telepresence and virtual presence”. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 1 (1), 120 - 126

Immersive tendencies

One of the factors that Steuer (1995; 40) identifies that promote mediated presence is “the characteristics of the individual experiencing the environment”. Newman (2005; 3) describes people with high immersive tendencies as people who:

"are able to block external distractions and become very focused, to the point where they become unaware of their immediate environment and the passage of time" - Newman (2005; 3).

People who have stronger immersive tendencies will report a higher feeling of presence in virtual environments (Kaber, Draper and Usher, 2002; 392).

Immersive tendencies are “thought to be dependent on aspects of human cognition and behaviour, including concentration, imagination, and self-control” (Psotka and Davison, 1993; quoted in Kaber, Draper and Usher, 2002; 392). Other researchers have found a correlation between daydreaming and becoming lost in novels and immersive tendencies (Witmer and Singer, 1994; quoted in Kaber, Draper and Usher, 2002; 392).

Embodiment tendencies

Heeter (1995; 200) identified two characteristics of users, which she stated as being propensities for involvement in virtual worlds; these are the propensity to engage belief in a virtual world (equivalent to Newman’s “immersive tendency” [2005; 3]) and the propensity to engage belief in a virtual body (an “embodiment tendency”). Heeter found that this propensity varied from individual to individual.

In her study, participants engaged in a 3D virtual world in which the participants’ image was superimposed over computer-generated images projected on a screen. Heeter refers to this as second person VR, although it is evidently more appropriate to refer to this as third person VR. The 3D effect was created through the screen being observed through stereoscopic viewers. The participants were asked whether their off-screen physical body, their image on the screen, or both, felt like their real self. Heeter found that 29% to 31 % of respondents “felt as if ‘the being on the screen’ was their real self”, 26% to 29% felt that their physical body was their real self and 40% to 42% felt that both were real (Heeter, 1995; 200). Heeter comments:

“The percentages were surprisingly consistent across different audiences and different virtual experiences. … About one fourth of the population is so strongly situated in the real world and their real body that they have a difficult time becoming involved in a virtual world.” (Heeter, 1995; 200).

Heeter, C. (1995). “Communication research on consumer VR”. Biocca, F. and Levy, & M. R. (eds.), Communication in the age of virtual reality (pp. 191-218). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kaber, D.B., Draper, J.V. and Usher, J.M. (2002) Influence of Individual Differences on Application Design for Individual and Collaborative Immersive Virtual Environments in Stanney, K.M. (ed) Handbook of Virtual Environments; Design Implementation and Applications, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 379 - 402

Newman, K. (2005) “Albert in Africa: Online Role-playing and Lessons from Improvisational Theatre” Computers in Entertainment, Vol. 3, No. 3, July 2005
Steuer, J. (1995) “Defining virtual reality: Dimensions determining telepresence” in Biocca, F. and Levy, M.R. , Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality, Lawrence Erlbaum
Feel free to add comments here but I suggest you send any substantial follow-ups directly to Mark / Gann.

Virtually educated - the reality of using Second Life and other virtual worlds in FE

I gave a presentation at the JISC RSC-SW Summer Conference a couple of days ago...

Not my best ever presentation, partly because I'd structured it into 4 areas that were only semi-related to each other and partly because the room was quite full and we were projecting my slides onto a side wall so that Chris Swaine (Chris Eggplant) could live-demo Second Life while I was talking. Thanks to Chris for doing this - it gave some distraction for those who were bored by what I was saying... more importantly it gave a room full of people who were mostly quite new to Second Life a real sense of what it is about.

My talk was preceded by a talk by Chris and Susan Williams, both of EducationUK Island, who gave a very nice general introduction to Second Life and its use in education.

Anyway, here are my slides:

The most contentious point in the presentation (I think) was when I said that up to 90% of people (i.e. students and staff) will not "get" SL - by which I meant that they will not understand the point of it or identify with being "in" a virtual world. It was certainly the thing that people picked up on most in questions at the end. This figure comes from a comment by Babbage Linden in the in-world meeting that we held following last year's symposium, where he suggested that "only 1 in 10 people get Second Life anyway".

Thinking about it now, I have no idea if this is a reasonable proportion to quote or not - and I should have probably made this clearer on the slide. It's related to issues around feeling "embodiment" (or not) in virtual worlds, as well as to more general issues around the sense of "coolness" (or not) that people associate with Second Life.

I'd be very interested to hear people's views on this.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Open Habitat

I mentioned the Open Habitat project in my last post but didn't highlight their blog (because I hadn't spotted it!). There's some interesting stuff there, particularly around our notions of online identity and what it means to collaborate in virtual worlds.

Worth keeping an eye on I think...

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Playing with OpenSim

I'm on the advisory group for the JISC Open Habitat project which is doing interesting things with groups of art & design and philosophy students in Second Life. We met up briefly the other day and, amongst other things, discussed the experimentation they have been doing with OpenSim.

In short, they've been using a dedicated instance of OpenSim as a 'safe' place to introduce a group of art & design students to the basic concepts of virtual worlds like Second Life - 'safe' in the sense of it being a sandbox area, with no-one else around.

Having got students familiar with the basic concepts - moving, flying, chat, simple building, etc. - they then gave them a paper exercise to help them choose their SL avatar name. The exercise involved thinking about the choice of second names available from LL, choosing one, finding out where it came from, then prefixing it with a first name of their own choosing.

The idea, I think, is that this added investment into the choice of name encourages the students to identify more closely with their avatar.

Only at that point did they let students anywhere near the real Second Life registration pages and orientation experience.

As far as I could tell this process seems to have worked quite well - at least for that group of art & design students. Of course, it is likely that art & design students are not typical of students more generally.

Inspired by the work of the project, I thought I'd have a quick play with OpenSim on my home PC. It's very easy to get up and running and works with the standard Second Life client (with a few run-time arguments). Here's a picture of a "ruthed" Art Fossett on my very own sim.

Playing with Picnik

On Eduserv Island
Originally uploaded by Art Fossett
Torley recently announced a short video tutorial showing how to use Picnik to take snapshots of Web pages. Over Twitter, I asked him how he moved SL snapshots into Flickr and he replied saying that he used SLBuzz, which can receive images direct from SL using email and which has an option to forward on any images to your Flickr account.

I joined SLBuzz a while ago but then forgot about it. I just tried again, and getting snapshots from SL into it seems very straightforward. I haven't got the syncing with Flickr to work yet - not sure why? But it doesn't matter too much because I've also installed the Firefox Picnik add-on which allows me to right-click on the image in SLBuzz and take it directly into Picnik.

Once there, I can edit it as I see fit, then save direct to my Art Fossett Flickr account.

From Flickr, I can blog the image directly into here, via my Blogger account.

Everything happens without touching my laptop disk drive and without having to run Gimp. Don't get me wrong... I like Gimp and use it all the while. But the, save to disk, load into Gimp, save to disk, upload to blog routine was getting pretty tedious.

I'll try the new process for a while and see how I get on. It's not perfect, but I think it's better than what I was doing before.

Chat logs and live blogging - to publish or not to publish, that is the question

IYan Writer argues that publishing chat logs of meetings is not only unhelpful as a record of the meeting but downright harmful (because it pollutes Google search results), Event chat transcripts considered harmful.

I can't bring myself to totally agree (largely because I have published such things in the past and will probably do so again) but I understand where he is coming from. I think there probably is a time and place for publishing full transcripts (hey, I'm as lazy as the next person) but I also agree very strongly with IYan, that investing time in summarising the issues for people provides something far more meaningful and useful.

I live-blogged the Learning From Online Worlds; Teaching In Second Life final meeting held yesterday at the London Knowledge Lab (UK). This was the final meeting of a project that we (the Eduserv Foundation) funded about a year ago and featured talks by project staff (Diane Carr, Martin Oliver and Andrew Burn), Britta Pollmuller, Tanya Krzywinska and Aleks Krotoski. It was a great event but I'm slightly worried that my live-blogging attempt isn't much more useful than a transcript even as useful as a transcript.

The trouble with live blogging is that you don't really get time to draw out the themes - it's just a stream of consciousness, driven by what the speakers are saying. This was made worse yesterday because I felt I didn't understand the space being talked about well enough to summarise (or even capture at some points) in a useful way.

Live-blogging is a real art - and one that I'm still learning. Someone said to me after the meeting yesterday that it's not just about taking notes - to a certain extent you are also putting on a performance - you are interacting with a remote audience as well as trying to track what is happening in the room. Not an easy thing to so. That said, I'm reasonably convinced it is a worthwhile investment of my own time - if nothing else, I find that committing myself to live-blogging an event, forces me to pay attention to things far more closely than I otherwise would. The major problems arise where you want to ask questions of the live speakers and/or engage in debate in the room - at which point live-blogging has to go on hold for a while.

Thursday, 12 June 2008


Planning for the Second Life Education Community Conference 2008 is underway. See the wiki for details. Volunteers wanted!

SLEDcc2008 is part of the annual Second Life Community Convention, this year being held in Tampa, Florida, US (and in-world of course) between Sept 5-7 2008.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Twitter and Second Friends

Twitter is mildly borked right now which has interrupted the flow of tweet bubbles from my Second Friends Tweeters. In dealing with their performance problems, the Twitter folks seem to have done two things...

Firstly, they now require HTTP Basic Authentication for all GET requests against 'friends timeline' RSS feeds - up until recently these feeds were openly available to anyone AFAIK. This actually makes sense, and simply mirrors the access control imposed on the Twitter Web site, so I'm not complaining - but it took me a while to realise why my feed requests were always coming back empty.

Secondly, Twitter seems to be throttling back the number of requests that can be made against the RSS feed in any given period, serving an empty feed if you go over the limit. This is somewhat annoying, though understandable, and I think they've always done it to some extent. But the point at which throttling cuts in seems to happen very quickly now. More importantly, I'd prefer them to return some kind of HTTP error code rather than an empty feed - at least then it would be easier to take some kind of sensible action, like backing off for a few minutes.

Whatever... to get round this limitation I've introduced some server-side caching between my in-world 'tweeter' script and the Twitter feed itself (all access to the feed goes via a server-side Perl script in any case). This means that I should never hit the RSS feed more than once every 5 minutes or so - irrespective of how many people use the in-world tweeter.

Again, this is basically a good thing - and the fact I was having problems indicates I had implemented in a slightly sloppy way. Oh well, live and learn. In general, one of the things I'm finding with building SL / Web 2.0 mashups is that you need to think carefully about where HTTP requests are being made, how often they are happening, and what throttling is likely to cut in at what point. Otherwise, you tend to leave something chugging away all hunky dory and come back a few days later to find it malfunctioning in some way.

For most Twitter applications, a delay of up to 5 minutes before seeing a tweet would be unacceptable, but in the case of the Second Friends Tweeter, which is largely a gimmick, I think it is perfectly OK.

Friday, 6 June 2008

ReLIVE2008 - second call for abstracts

The Open University is pleased to announce a second call for abstract submissions for the international conference for Researching Learning in Virtual Environments to be held at its campus in Milton Keynes on the 20th and 21st of November 2008.
Sounds interesting... particularly with keynotes by both Edward Castranova and Roo Reynolds. Full details are available from the ReLIVE2008 conference Web site. The organisers are looking for papers, workshops/symposiums, posters and in-world events.
If you are currently researching learning in a virtual world, for example There, CyberTown, Second Life etc, then we invite you to submit an abstract to ReLIVE08. We are seeking presenters and participants who have experience of designing and delivering learning in virtual worlds, and the ability to reflect on and share that experience within an analytical framework. Please note that the closing date for the second call is the 20th of June.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Second Friends reaches 1000

I've been AFK for a week or so, on RL holiday, which means I missed the 1000th Second Friends registration.

Looks like second friend number 1000 was Luciftias Neurocam who will be receiving a Second Friends t-shirt in honor of the occasion.

Yes, alright... I know that Second Friends isn't the biggest Social Network evar! But 1000 is a nice round number and deserves to be noticed in some form.